By BosNewsLife Asia Service
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- A Pakistan court has acquitted a Muslim cleric who accused Christian girl of blasphemy against Islam, before he himself was detained on similar charges, trial observers said.
Khalid Jadoon Chishti, the imam of the local mosque, had accused Rimsha Masih of burning pages containing texts of the Koran, deemed a holy book by Muslims.
The 14-year-old girl was detained in August 2012 and spent three weeks in one of Pakistan's toughest jails with adult inmates, but the case against her was quashed amid international pressure.
Soon after, Chishti himself was accused of "desecrating the Koran and tampering" with the evidence against Rimsha.
He allegedly planted pages of the Koran in a bag full of ash that was seized from the girl, believed to be mentally disabled.
Trial observers said that though the cleric was detained, he was never formally indicted. His lawyer said the Islamabad court released him Saturday, August 17, after accepting there was not enough evidence against him.
"The court has dismissed all charges against Khalid Chishti and has acquitted him in this case," the lawyer, Wajid Ali Gilani told reporters.
Pakistani media said witnesses had withdrawn their accusations, claiming they had made their statements under duress.
Rimsha, who lived in a poor, run-down neighborhood on the edge of Islamabad, and her family were forced into hiding, living under government protection in fear of their lives
They recently left to Canada where they received asylum.
The case has underscored the issue of blasphemy laws in Pakistan, which rights groups say are often used to settle personal disputes or attack religious minorities, including Christians.
Even unproven allegations can provoke a violent public response, including attacks against churches, Christian homes and individuals.
Fifty two of the accused and their supporters have been murdered in the last two decades, according to rights activists.
Two politicians, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, Salman Taseer, and Christian federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated in 2011 for criticizing the country's blasphemy legislation.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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